The late performance artist known as Rockets Redglare was an interesting man. He grew up and learned his trade in New York City and first rose to some notoriety there in the 1950s. Later in his life, he'd wind up working as a bodyguard for the Sex Pistols and then later Sid Vicious specifically, find his own local access television show where he'd perform with Steve Buscemi, make some money selling dope, work as an actor in a few films of varying stature and quality, and then finally die from all the substance abuse he subjected himself to.
This film, simply named after the man: Rockets Redglare - a rather odd stage name, features interviews and commentary from many of the celebrities who knew and worked with him such as actors Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, and Matt Dillon, as well as directors Jim Jarmusch, and Nick Zedd. This, edited in amongst some archival footage of Rockets' performances as well as some interview clips of Rockets himself, make up the entire body of the film and director Luis Fernandez de la Reguera does a pretty good job of painting a picture of the late performer in this documentary.
Rockets had a pretty messed up childhood and the filmmakers make a case for this being the reason that he turned out the way that he did. He willingly inflicted a substantial amount of physical damage to his body from alcohol, heroin and methadone methadone abuse and the documentary rightfully spends a large part of its time chronicling his battles with these substances. As a child he was born a heroin addict, so it's almost like he was cursed with this from the beginning. Add to that the fact that his father and uncle were criminals and that his mother remarried a man who was physically abusive to him and you can see how he might end up a little messed in the head.
There's a lot more to this story though than just a tale of a junkie artist type. As you watch the film and become more familiar with its subject, it just might dawn on you that you've seen a lot of the movies that Rockets was in, proving that maybe he had a little bit more influence on those he was around and those he worked with than you might at first suspect. He had small roles in Desperately Seeking Susan where he played a cab driver, he was Gig in Jim Jarmusch's best film to date Down By Law, he was a hotel clerk in Penny Marhal's Tom Hanks vehicle Big, and he played the killer in Oliver Stone's fantastic Talk Radio. Friend and fellow actor Steve Buscemi cast him in his feature directorial debut, Trees Lounge and in his later film, Animal Factory. With credits like that under his belt, it shouldn't surprise you if he looks more than a little familiar.
While it is all well and good to hear Buscemi, Dafoe and company wax nostalgic about their dear departed friend (there are some fantastic stories and anecdotes contained in this film), the real reason to watch this is the off the wall footage of Rockets himself. Even after his death, which is when this film was put together, he remains an interesting character in his own right and a fitting subject for a documentary. Ruguera's film is obviously a labor of love, and an appropriate eulogy for an enigmatic performer.
The 1.33.1 fullframe image only looks as good as the source material used. Some of the archival clips are in pretty bad shape and more than a little bit rough around the edges. Other than that though, the interview footage and recently shot segments with Rockets' colleagues looks quite good. Colors are fine, they don't bleed at all and while there is some minor edge enhancement, it's never a big deal. The video quality gets the job done just fine for this documentary.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix suffers from the same source material problems that the video does, but again, it's never bad enough to take you out of the movie or the story that it tells. There's some hiss and background noise in the older footage, and the newer material is crisp and clean without any problems.
Aside from the film's theatrical trailer and a Rockets Redglare filmography, there's a great commentary track from director Luis Fernandez de la Reguera and Steve Buscemi. The two share even more anecdotes and stories about the subject at hand and do a nice job of elaborating on a few bits and pieces from the film that maybe could have been fleshed out a little more in the final film. They've both obviously got nothing but respect and love for Rockets and their enthusiasm for his life and work is all through this track. If you were even remotely interested in the film, you'd be doing yourself a grave disservice by not at least giving the commentary track a chance. There are also a handful of deleted scenes included on the disc, most of which were likely edited for pacing and timing reasons but some of which are rather amusing and interesting which makes them worth checking out after you finish with the main feature.
Rockets Redglare is an oddly compelling film about an oddly fascinating, albeit very tragic, performance artist/actor. It does a good job of filling in the viewer on Rockets' origins and follows his life right up until his demise. The audio and video are decent enough and the extra compliment the feature very appropriately. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.